At this point, it's unclear when Canadians will be able to ditch their COVID-19 face masks and social distancing protocols. It's an ongoing question - especially as U.S. residents received new guidelines last week.
On Friday morning, the federal government released a new ‘roadmap’ with goals to eventually ease public health restrictions for adults who are fully immunized from COVID-19 by the summer and the fall.
The Public Health Agency of Canada’s new report, COVID-19: Life after vaccination, states if 75 percent of those eligible for vaccines have one dose and 20 percent have a second dose by the summer, restrictions can start to lift based on conditions in your area – with masking and social distancing.
But by the fall, if 75 percent of those eligible for vaccines have received both doses, your local public health unit will be able to lift more measures which would include more indoor activities with those outside of your household – like colleges, sports and gatherings – with masking and social distancing.
“More people need to be vaccinated,” said Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, during the virtual announcement on the morning of May 14, noting about 50 percent of Canadians have received at least their first dose of the vaccine.
“For now, you need to keep following public health advice, whether or not you’ve been vaccinated, to keep yourself, your family and your community safe. The good news, is that our target is in sight,” said Hajdu, who also serves as the Thunder Bay-Superior North MP.
Canada’s announcement came on the day that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced new recommendations for Americans who have received both doses of their COVID-19 vaccines, which include not wearing a mask or staying socially distant, with no testing requirements after travel within the United States.
This also follows Premier Doug Ford announcing his goal of a ‘two-dose summer’ after extending Ontario’s stay-at-home orders and public health restrictions last Thursday. The provincial and federal governments both say they’re aiming to have all willing adults fully immunized by the end of September.
“We could be far more prepared. We are months behind other countries like the U.S., U.K. and others. It’s frustrating,” said Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and Durham MP, Erin O’Toole, in an interview with Q104 and KenoraOnline on Friday.
“We’ve been pushing the federal government to stop being so slow and timid. We could secure more vaccines from the U.S. where there’s millions of doses of AstraZeneca not being used and could expire. This third wave could have been avoided with better leadership in Ottawa,” adds O’Toole.
According to Our World in Data, which tracks the amount of COVID-19 vaccines administered globally, reports Canada has administered 17.3 million vaccine doses so far. As of May 14, Canada ranks 14th in most doses given globally, behind Spain at 21 million, Mexico at 22 million and Turkey at 25 million.
Canada is expecting roughly 4.5 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines this week.
As it stands, intervals between vaccine doses are currently about four months, which was recommended by the National Advisory Committee of Immunization to offer more first doses to more residents, before fully vaccinating the most at-risk.
But the Ministry of Health has said they may be able to shorten the four-month interval, potentially leading to a timeline closer to the 28-day intervals recommended by Pfizer and Moderna, as they receive additional vaccines from the federal government.
“Our overall population vaccination rates affect all of us,” said Medical Officer of Health with the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Kit Young Hoon, during her weekly conference with regional media members on Friday, who urged everyone who is eligible to book their appointments as soon as they can.
As of May 14, the Northwestern Health Unit is reporting about 48 percent of residents above the age of 18 in their catchment area have received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and youth between the ages of 12 and 17 will become eligible as of May 31.
Young Hoon also shared Ontario’s new contact tracing guidelines for those who have already received both doses – which she noted is a low amount of the population locally, as of May 14.
“The new guidelines allow those who are fully vaccinated with two doses to not have to self-isolate if they are a high-risk close contact of a case of COVID-19. By avoiding a 14-day self-isolation period, these fully-vaccinated people will be able to do their daily activities like school or work.”
After June 2, each region is expected to transition back into the provincial COVID-19 response framework with certain safety restrictions pertaining to specific levels of risk within a region, unless the stay-at-home orders are extended once again.
Dr. Young Hoon explains to be placed in the Red-Control level of the framework, a region must report a COVID-19 positivity rate of about 40 cases per 100,000 people per week, and the statistic is re-evaluated weekly.
Currently, she says the Northwestern Health Unit’s catchment area has a rate of 55 cases per 100,000 people, meaning the region would likely be placed into the Red-Control or Grey-Lockdown level of restrictions once again.
Everyone is asked to only leave their homes for essential reasons, and anyone with COVID-19 symptoms is asked to self-isolate, get tested and remain in isolation until your test results are known.